The Challenges and Rewards of Co-Parenting
Co-parenting is usually defined as a situation wherein two people who are not married, living together, or otherwise intimately involved commit to taking fairly equal responsibility for the care and upbringing of a child. It is based upon the belief that parenting comes with certain indisputable rights and responsibilities on both sides. In addition, it acknowledges a child’s right to maintain a stable relationship with both of his or her parents, regardless of whether or not they are “together”. Co-parenting is also pursued at times by people involved in relational and family situations that society views as unconventional, such as close friends and gay and lesbian couples.
Many mothers and fathers consider co-parenting to be a worthwhile pursuit for one very compelling reason. Children are more likely to thrive when they have healthy relationships with both of their parents, particularly when this involves frequent contact. Even our court systems have begun to acknowledge that children do best when they have two actively involved parents, and this is reflected in the instances where shared custody is encouraged in divorce cases. This occurs much more often nowadays than it did in previous decades when our society, by and large, had an ambivalent attitude towards the value of fathers.
Children benefit from their parents’ solidarity. Conflicts, disagreements, and inconsistent behavior amongst the adults can contribute to their insecurities and anxieties. But if two parents are committed to making important decisions together regarding their children, and if they uphold each other in that area, then this kind of stability and reliability will be communicated to the young ones and contribute to their overall emotional health and happiness. The definition of co-parenting has grown to encompass situations where two people who may not be a child’s biological parents do the raising. But even here the arrangement has certain advantages. Co-parents in unconventional family configurations can still model mutual respect, compromise, and devotion for the child, which can be much preferred to situations where a biological parent is neglectful, abusive, or not interested in being a part of his or her child’s life.
In order for a co-parenting arrangement to really work, both parties must be able to agree – to a reasonable extent – about what’s in the best interests of the child. Because our parenting styles are such creative expressions of who we are – touching, as they do, upon our most intimate core beliefs, values and dreams – this can be a considerable challenge. It calls for self-awareness, commitment to the overarching goal – the welfare of the child – and the ability to compromise. When we embark upon the adventure of co-parenting we must leave behind some measure of control. This can bring up fear, the kind of fear that leads many people to do things that undermine their parenting skills: being unreliable or inconsistent with visits, discipline, and promises, for example. That’s why it’s important that we be aware, in each moment, of the feelings that are really motivating us in our interactions with our children and with the other parent. We must ask if those motives serve the greater good.
If our primary desire is to help our children to flourish, however, then co-parenting carries a few advantages. It provides children with stable and reliable relationships with both of their parents, which is the thing that most children strongly crave. At the same time, it enables the parents to take turns so that each has the opportunity to take personal space, pursue adult interests outside of parenting, and “recharge” emotionally. It creates a situation wherein they can reinforce each other’s hopes over anxieties, and ideals over worries.